A Weybridge woman who spent 11 weeks helping out rural communities in Cambodia has turned her outreach expertise to good use since returning to the UK.

23-year-old Marcia Rainey worked with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) group in Cambodia from September 2019 as part of the UK government funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme.

She stayed with host families and helped with the programme’s efforts to tackle poverty in the developing world by “breaking the cycle” of low-income work and its relation to education past primary school.

Marcia has since returned to the UK and is now working on homelessness outreach in London, though the ongoing coronavirus has presented a range of new difficulties for her to navigate:

“I’m currently working with a charity in East London that works with over 65s which is obviously quite pertinent at the moment,” Marcia pointed out, in reference to the vulnerability of many elderly people to the Covid-19 virus.

“We’re also trying to start an organization for homeless people that focuses on arts and music. The idea is to raise awareness and money for this cause, but also create art workshops for homeless people too,” she added.

With the ongoing lockdown, however, the project has been forced to go online for the time being with Marcia and her colleagues planning via video calls and text messages like so many other workers in the UK at present.

So how does volunteering against poverty compare between Cambodia and the UK?

“In London it’s really obvious how big a problem homelessness is, you only need to walk down the street really, whereas in Cambodia it’s perhaps less obvious, especially in rural towns,” Marcia said.

Another difference is the drastic disparities between the way the two countries’ economies are set up and the impact that has on their workforces.

A large number of Camobidians, between 30 and 40 percent, are still employed in agriculture, compared to 1-2 per cent of the UK’s workforce.

“In Cambodia there is a real lack of communication about jobs that aren’t in agriculture. Breaking the cycle of each new generation in rural areas becoming farmers can be a challenge,” she said.

Now back in the UK, Marcia’s volunteering efforts have shifted from education to a different form of support for those in need.

During the current pandemic, she’s been working with councils in East London to help support elderly residents shielding at home from the coronavirus.

“We phone residents up and get to know them with weekly calls, and try and match up people who will get along. If they need support with shopping or medical supplies we can help with that too,” Marcia said.

Other forms of support, including cooking meals and helping less tech-savvy residents set up video calls with their loved ones during lockdown, are also on the menu for Marcia and her colleagues.

“It’s definitely been a challenge in lockdown but we’re getting a good response,” she said.

“For a lot of people who don’t have others to talk to it’s the highlight of their week.”